American Institute of Architects Walking Tour Through a Planner Lens

By Jeff Merz – Planner with G70

I participated in the October 22nd AIA Walking Tour of Kaka'ako. I was part of a group of volunteers whose role it was to guide architectural enthusiasts and aficionados through a designated route through Kaka'ako. This route weaved from Ward Avenue to the SALT development with stops at about 10 sites where a docent (with ties to the development itself) led the discussion of the structure at that particular station.

AIA Walking Tour of Kaka'ako October 22, 2022.

As described to me by Julia Fink, Executive Vice President of AIA Honolulu and the Center for Architecture, the event on the 22nd had about 65 participants, which is a bit lower than normal Architecture Month tour turnout, but pretty much in line with the pandemic-era amount of people. The AIA Honolulu Walking Tour Committee puts together a special tour each year (exceptions 2020 and 2021) as part of their Architecture Month celebrations.

This year’s Kaka'ako tour focused on housing options in the area. While Honolulu faces an uphill battle to meet its housing needs, the tour featured many creative, innovative, and modern solutions to housing. Many included public-private partnerships through collaboration with various federal, State, and City agencies. As many of us already know, the majority of parcels in Kaka'ako are owned by three entities; Kamehameha Schools, the Howard Hughes Corporation, and the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA)/State. This arrangement has been beneficial for the implementation of master plans for the various entities and flexibility in design and infrastructure. Each organization has a slightly different focus and mission to their proposed master plan build-out, but all involve mixed use, medium to high density infill with a nod to the future rail corridor passing through the area (and eventually to Ala Moana Center and the University of Hawai'i).

Our group and their fearless leader – me!

The best part of these developments, from my planner perspective, is that all were located on brownfield/infill sites. These developments involved no expansion of urban boundaries nor sacrificing green fields or prime agricultural lands on the urban fringe. Having lived in Honolulu for 20 years, I have seen this area blossom with creativity, thoughtful development, and a real sense of community; a far cry from the oceans of surface parking lots and one story industrial warehouses that used to fill the area. With Mother Waldron Park at its center, this area really demonstrates what good, long term planning can look like and how it can (re)create a robust, inclusive community through urban infill.

If this event piqued your interest, AIA Honolulu offers Downtown and Chinatown tours each month which you can see and sign up for on their website: Architectural Walking Tours - AIA Honolulu.

I am personally glad to have these types of events re-initiated in our community post-COVID and appreciate the volunteers at AIA and other organizations for continuing to foster community-building events.

A selection of photos from the tour are provided below. Mahalo to all that attended and participated.

Pickleball courts between Mother Waldron Park and a townhouse mixed use development adjacent to Halekauwila Place.

A docent from HCDA explaining the agency’s projects in the area.

The Pow-Wow organization docent visiting with our group to explain the street mural project.

The tallest building in the State – the 690 Pohukaina affordable housing project.

The Nohona Hale -micro-unit development averaging 300 square feet of living space per unit, sits on HCDA lands. The length of the makai side of the building incorporates the State’s first vertical solar panels.

400 Keawe Street by the developer Castle and Cooke.

The Flats at Puunui by Kamehameha Schools.

Salt Kaka'ako mixed use corridor on Kamehameha Schools owned land.